Khoung Sreng was sworn in as the new governor of Phnom Penh yesterday, wasting little time before sending a warning that he will act against “ill-intentioned” people in the city, with Interior Minister Sar Kheng pledging at the event that recent commune election successes of the opposition would be kept in check by the local government.
The former deputy governor was elevated to his new role at an event held in City Hall and attended by senior police officials, local bureaucrats, ministry staffers and Phnom Penh court officers. Along with Sreng, former Pursat Provincial Deputy Governor Keut Che and Nuon Pharath, a staffer at the Council of Ministers, were promoted to be his deputies.
In a short speech, the new governor said he was committed to maintaining the city’s “prosperity”, as well as tackling the prickly issues of drug use and crime in the capital. But he also warned that he would take steps to maintain security and rid the city of anyone causing disorder. “I commit to keep the nation’s security forever for continuing the development and will absolutely get rid of ill-intentioned people who want to make chaos for our society,” he said.
While Sreng did not elaborate on who he was referring to, he took part in numerous crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations, protests and marches in his capacity as deputy governor.
Sreng’s elevation coincides with a reshuffling of three other provincial governors in Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum and Koh Kong, all of whom were sworn in earlier this week.
While the three departing provincial governors will now serve as advisers to the government with the rank of ministers, outgoing Municipality Governor Pa Socheatvong will be an adviser directly to Hun Sen and have a senior minister ranking.
Following the new governor’s remarks, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, who presided over the event, said the local government would make sure the newly elected commune councils work according to the direction of City Hall and in compliance of the law.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party consolidated the gains it made in the 2013 national elections by winning 57 of the city’s communes, surpassing the Cambodian People’s Party, which was left with 48 communes.
“We need to observe whether commune council decisions are right or wrong and legal or not. The governor has the right to make this intervention,” he said. “The intervention does not mean we deny their decisions but ask them to take it back to review it.”
He added that regulations governing the functioning of commune councils could be reviewed or tweaked, and in no way was the CNRP going to be able to change village chiefs – who are the go-to people residents most frequently interact with when in need of services.
“The transfer [of village chiefs] is only possible in three ways: first, the person requests to quit or give up; second, the person passes away; and third, the person has committed a mistake,” Kheng said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, deputy presidents Eng Chhay Eang and Mu Sochua and Phnom Penh executive member Morn Phalla could not be reached yesterday.
Soeung Saran, advocacy programme manager for housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said it was worrying that the new governor’s first address to the city’s residents contained a threat rather than reassuring words that long-standing civic issues would be addressed. “I think he should send a positive and good message to the people, who have faced many problems in the city,” he said.
He added that the city has seen a slew of mass evictions and limitations on freedom of expression – a legacy of exiting Governor Socheatvong – which needed to be corrected and prevented in the future by the new city chief.